How to cut a dog’s nails: why you need to and when to do it

How to cut a dog's nails:

If your dog sounds like a tap dancer on your living room floor, then take a closer look at his paws because something is wrong here. You will probably notice immediately that your four-legged friend’s nails are too long. However, many dogs are nervous about people touching their paws and also have an aversion to the nail pliers. We outline how to cut a dog’s nails, how often you need to do it and how to do it for a dog that is uncooperative or nervous.

Why do you need to?

If you walk around town a lot, your dog will likely grind its nails off by itself while running on the asphalt. Games such as digging or dog sports also ensure that the dog’s nails are mechanically worn out in a natural way. If this doesn’t happen by itself, you will have to regularly help out and know how to cut dog nails with nail scissors or file them down. Because dog nails that are too long can have health consequences:

  • Pain when walking
  • Sensitive paws
  • Injuries to the paws
  • Problems with balance
  • Damage to posture and gait

If your dog’s nails are too long, they can press into the nail bed, which can cause the toes to push to the side and the joints to be stressed too much. Often there are sensitive paws, sores or pain when walking. There is also the danger of slipping on smooth surfaces, as the dog can no longer find a proper grip due to the long claws. In the long term, this can lead to muscle tension, relieving posture and postural damage. Also read how to take a dogs temperature: with different thermometers or without one

If your dog is healthy and very active and athletic, injuries can quickly occur as the nails can tear off or splinter. Injuries to the nails are very painful and often protracted. If your four-legged friend walks with nails that are too long for a long time, there is a risk of long-term consequences such as lameness or osteoarthritis.

Make sure that the nails do not get too long, otherwise the nerves and blood vessels in the nail will reach further and further into the horny substance. The longer the nails become, the longer the “live” part in them becomes and migrates further and further towards the tip of the claw.

This makes it difficult in how to cut dog’s nails so as to shorten the nails back to a normal length later — and can then only be done gradually. If this has already happened, however, you should file off the nails a few millimeters once a week . In this way, the blood vessels can retreat bit by bit. The more often you do this, the faster the blood-supplied area recedes.

This development can be stopped and even reversed: the more often the nails are shortened, the more the blood vessels in the nail recede. This means that even extremely long nails (from dogs that come from catastrophic positions, for example) can be restored to a normal, healthy state with regular care. Also read how to stop a dog barking too much

But when are the nails too long?

  • When your dog is standing, his toes should not touch the ground.
  • Do you hear a click when the dog walks across the parquet or the tiles in the kitchen? In this case, the nails are almost certainly too long.
  • When holding up the paw, the nails should not be longer than the ball of the corresponding toe.
  • Ideally, the nails should always be just short of touching the ground while standing

The right tools

With the right tool for how to cut dogs nails, you not only make the grooming ritual easier for yourself, but also for your dog. It is best to use special nail pliers or nail scissors. This is perfect for the hard surface of the dog’s claws. With the optimized cutting angle and the round cutting surface, they exert even pressure on the nail from all sides and thus ensure a clean cutting result.

Do not use nail scissors or nail clippers for humans. These squeeze the nail unnecessarily and are usually uncomfortable for the dogs. The following utensils are best for how to cut a dog’s nail properly:

  • Nail pliers or Nail scissors
  • Nail files or electric nail grinder
  • A nail trimmer for small breeds of dogs
  • Good source of light, such as a flashlight
  • Calm hand
  • Paw balm if necessary.

A nail file or emery board is best suited for nails that are only to be shortened a few millimeters or if you want to grind away a nail that is much too long so that the blood vessels recede. The hair between the paw pads and toes you can cut with a children’s scissors or a bandage scissors with rounded ends.

If you do not have a lot of experience in how to cut dog’s nails at home, or are unsure, special nail clippers for dogs are suitable for how to cut your dog’s nails. These work on the principle of a guillotine and have a protective device that ensures that you cannot cut the nails too far. An electric nail grinder can also be a good solution to avoid injuries. However, it is important, regardless of whether you use nail scissors, clippers or grinders, that you get your dog used to clipping its nails.

When using tools, make sure that the blades are always sharp. This is the only way to cut cleanly without the nail splitting or tearing. Also adjust the tool to the size of your dog. Small clippers are suitable for smaller breeds and large, sturdy nail nails are better for larger dogs. Using too large a tool could damage the inner workings of the claws.

How much to cut a dog’s nails without injury

How to cut a dog's nails
  • A flashlight is recommended for bright nails. You can shine through the nail and see the nerve tissue and vessels so easily.
  • The nail must be shortened by one millimeter per cut. Stop no more than two millimeters from the vessels. Shortly beforehand, you will already notice a change in the nail tissue. This is getting more and more pink.
  • You cannot shine the flashlight through dark nails . Therefore you have to orientate yourself on the nail tissue or on the cut surface. If you see a dark point, you are close to the blood vessels.
  • It is best to work your way up gradually, millimeter by millimeter, so that you avoid cutting into the areas with blood circulation. Some breeds naturally have very long nails riddled with blood vessels.
  • If an accident happens and your darling bleeds, it can be quenched quickly with a little high-percentage alcohol.

How to get your dog used to nail clipping

Not every dog likes to be touched by the paws or just cut its claws. Especially if you use a grinder, you should get your four-legged friend used to the care ritual beforehand. It is important that you yourself are as calm as possible and not nervous or tense. Your dog should also be relaxed as the crucial condition for how to cut a dog’s nails at home.

  • It is best to integrate the clipping of the nails into regular control and personal hygiene. Create a relaxed atmosphere and make the procedure as pleasant as possible for your four-legged friend.
  • Take his paws in your hand, massage them lightly, touch the nails and pads.
  • Show him the clippers and use them to touch his paws and claws, but without cutting directly. Only when your dog remains relaxed should you move on to the next step.
  • Now cut a nail and reward him generously for it. At the beginning a few tries are enough, you don’t have to cut all four paws at once. It is important that your dog has a positive link to the experience.

How to cut a dog’s nails: step by step guide

Here we explain step by step how to cut your dog’s claws.

  • Be relaxed: It is important that you yourself are as relaxed and balanced as possible. If you have had a bad day, are nervous or irritable, this mood will transfer to your four-legged friend and he will most likely not like to let you near his paws.
  • Good light source: Make sure you have a strong flashlight so that you can see where the nerves and blood vessels in the nail end, even with dark claws.
  • The correct position: It is best if your dog lies relaxed on its side. Then you can get close to all the nails and cut them in a relaxed manner.
  • Work precisely: It is best to take the dog’s paw in your free hand and hold it with moderate pressure so that it is firmly fixed. Then put on the clippers and make a clean cut. It is important that you proceed decisively, because a too timid cut is more likely to squeeze the claw.
  • With long claws: Generally only cut the nails in small pieces and stop about a millimeter for the inner workings of the claw. If necessary, you will have to make more than one cut per claw.
  • The final touch: After you have shortened the dog’s claw, it is advisable to briefly sand the edges again. Only move the file or grinder in one direction. This will prevent the nail from splitting or tearing.
  • Treats: Reward your four-legged friend if they have done well and stayed calm. Then make cutting your nails a positive experience and he will be happy to cooperate again next time.
  • Be careful not to cut the nail too far and damage the inner workings. Blood vessels and sensitive nerves run inside the claw. If these are cut and injured, it bleeds profusely and is very painful for the dog. He will remember that and the next time he will certainly not be so relaxed when you come with the nail scissors.

How to cut dog’s nails that are colored black or dark

With light-colored nails, the blood vessels are clearly visible, but what do you do if your dog’s nails are dark or even black? The best way for how to cut dog nails black or dark is with a powerful flashlight that you hold against your nails and use it to examine them.

Cut dark nails only in small slices and check the underside after each cut. The closer you get to the blood vessels, the darker the nail in the center becomes until it takes the shape of a black dot.

Cut wolf claws?

The so-called wolf’s nail is found on the hind legs of some dogs, mostly in larger breeds. It is also known as the dewclaw and is actually a holdover that has disappeared in most dogs in the course of evolution. This is the thumb claw, which is located on the inside of the hind leg. It has no contact with the ground and no longer fulfills any function.

Since the nail of the wolf’s nail cannot rub off, it grows longer and longer over time. He can cut his skin and lead to painful injuries or the dog gets stuck on it while playing and romping and can tear off the wolf’s claw. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with the dogs’ wild relatives. Wolves do not have a toe at this point. If your dog has wolf claws, you should check and trim them regularly to avoid injury.

How to cut an uncooperative dogs nails

For some four-legged friends, cutting their nails is very stressful and they can panic. In this case, you can try gradually getting your furry companion used to cutting. Perhaps you will first get him used to the cutting device and only touch his paws with it.

To save him stress, you can cut one nail at a time. In any case, you should be calm if he pulls his paw away or wants to run away. If you get impatient, this impatience is transferred to him. Your dog will likely panic even more. In some cases it can be more convenient for both sides to use a file.

How often to cut dog nails: depends on the dog

Similar to the toenails and fingernails in humans, dog nails also constantly grow back. Ideally, your four-legged friend simply wipes them off himself while running on different surfaces. In this case, a regular visual inspection is sufficient. In many cases, however, the nails grow back faster than they can be expired. Even if your furry friends walk a lot on grass or soft surfaces, for example, you may have to help regularly and cut your claws.

Checking the nails is therefore part of regular dog care. How often you should do this depends on the one hand on the disposition of the dog and on the other hand on its living conditions. Many dogs naturally grind their nails as they run and run around. With some four-legged friends, however, you have to regularly check the length of the nails and shorten them if necessary.

Most of the time, when your dog’s nails are too long, you’ll hear it. Then it makes a clicking noise when walking over laminate or tiles. This is a sure sign that you should trim the nails. The nails shouldn’t be longer than the ball of the toe that goes with them. If your dog is standing upright, the nails should end just short of the ground, i.e. not or only minimally touching it.

How often the nails need to be trimmed varies a little from dog to dog. In general, you should check the length of the nails regularly and cut them every four to six weeks. But only if it is necessary.

How to stop the bleeding if there is an injury

Despite all caution, it can happen that you cut the nail too far and it bleeds. Keep calm now, even if your dog is howling and bleeding profusely. You can usually stop the bleeding with a piece of gauze. First you should dab the area and then put a piece of plaster on it. Alternatively, curd soap or hemostatic preparations such as alum stick or potassium permanganate, which have a hemostatic effect and disinfect at the same time, are also suitable. Also read how to know when to give a dog painkillers.


Regular checks and, if necessary, cutting the dog’s nails are simply part of dog body care. Short and neatly filed nails prevent your four-legged friend from being injured, from having pain while walking or from developing malpositions and osteoarthritis. With the right tools and the dog getting used to paw grooming, nail clipping will quickly become routine.

Dr Alma Peterson Dr Alma Peterson is a skilled veterinary surgeon specialising in small animal practice and focusing on natural veterinary solutions wherever possible.